Stephen King – Wolves of the Calla

A nice little thing on Goodreads is that, when you mark a book as “currently reading”, then change your mood and put it back as “to read”, Goodreads remembers when you started reading and even where you stopped. This function showed me just how long it took me to finish this fifth Dark Tower book, or at least how long I put it aside before finally making it through. It’s almost three years, in case you’re curious…

wolves of the calla

WOLVES OF THE CALLA
by Stephen King

Published by: Hodder, 2003
Paperback: 771 pages
Series: The Dark Tower #5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where kaJaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing south-east through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough…

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So Roland and his ka-tet are on their quest to find and save the Dark Tower. In this fifth book of the series, they arrive at a place called Calla Bryn Sturgis whose population is visited by the Wolves of Thunderclap every once in a while. These wolves always do the same thing. They take their children and give them back roont (ruined) – they come back strangely tall and bulky, with their minds not fully intact. They’re never the same and they die very early. Now Roland could just walk on, continue without bothering with these people’s problems, but that’s just not like him. Plus, it all comes together and it all has to do with the Tower. So the ka-tet stays and decides to fight the Wolves.

I loved this idea so very much that I expected to rush through this book the way I did through the previous three (I’m one of those who don’t much like The Gunslinger). Alas, in the Calla, they meet a man named Callahan who relates his entire tale to them. And this tale takes SO. DAMN. LONG. and is so incredibly boring at times, that it was the reason I put the book away for years. What happens in the Calla, in the present, with Roland trying to win people’s allegiance, Susannah dealing with her own demons, Jake learning to understand betrayal from both sides – this was all fantastic and, just as you’d expect from Stephen King, written really well. Sure, things take a long time to happen but I like the way King builds up tension, creates his characters and settings and then brings us the big show-down.

Now Callahan’s story is important to the plot and I don’t have any useful criticism of it other than it bored me out of my mind. I was so glad when it was over. Suddenly, the pages flew by again, I couldn’t put the book down and I feared again for these characters that have become beloved friends to me.

One of the more intriguing things in this novel is the way technology weaves into the world. While Shardik was a relic of times long gone, here we are introduced to Andy, essentially a still-functioning robot who lives in the Calla. Although I know that technology was once present in this world, it still felt weird to have a robot play with the children of the Calla. There is also a fair bit of character development, not just in Roland but his entire ka-tet. Every one of the protagonists feels like a real person and seeing how they’ve changed from what they once were into… well, gunslingers, was just a joy to read. Seeing them work together as a team, communicate in glances and gestures as much as in words, it makes me dread the next two books all the more because I get the feeling King is going to kill off at least one main character. Just a gut feeling – I hope I’m wrong.

The idea of the stones and travelling doors is continued in Wolves of the Calla and again, doesn’t seem to fit into Roland’s world but somehow seamlessly works. King is mixing all sorts of sub-genres together and somehow makes it internally consistent. Time travel, westerns, science-fiction and epic fantasy all combine to create this wonderful thing. There were no great twists or surprises in the story surrounding the Wolves but there was one serious WTF moment at the end that makes me question the entire universe Stephen King has created in his Dark Tower series. I can’t possibly say more than that without spoilers but I re-read that passage to make sure I understood it right.

All things considered, this was my least favorite Dark Tower book because I feel Callahan’s story could have been shortened a great deal. The main plot, dealing with the Wolves, although atmospheric and an opportunity for King to show off his world-building skills, was fairly straight-forward and went as expected (by me). But there’s no denying that Stephen King is a great writer who knows what he’s doing and the language he created, especially the way the Calla folk talk, was entertaining enough. So not great, but good. On to Song of Susannah which promises an event that makes me cringe already…

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

Stephen King – Wizard and Glass

When I first found out about this series, I wanted to read it all in one go. And then I found out that Stephen King built a whole universe around this series – in his other fiction. So I decided to take it a bit more slowly and delve into other King books as well. So far, reading any Stephen King has paid off, and some books have fairly obvious references to the Dark Tower series that made me giggle as if I’d found an easter egg. Nowadays, it’s all on the internet, easy to be found. Which doesn’t make the hunt any less thrilling.

WIZARD AND GLASS
by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1997)
ISBN:0340829788
pages: 845
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #4

my rating: 9/10

first sentence: “ASK ME A RIDDLE,” Blaine invited. “Fuck you,” Roland said.

Wizard and Glass picks up where the last book left off, with our hero, Roland, and his unlikely band of followers escaping from one world and slipping into the next. And it is there that Roland tells them a story, one that details his discovery of something even more elusive than the Dark Tower: love. But his romance with the beautiful and quixotic Susan Delgado also has its dangers, as her world is tom apart by war. Here is Roland’s journey to his own past, to a time when valuable lessons awaited him, lessons of loyalty and betrayal, love and loss.

And the broken record continues. This is awesome!
This book differs a lot from the others in the series, because 90% of it are a flashback into Roland’s past. 14-year-old Roland is sent to Mejis with his friends Alain and Cuthbert – both of which I came to love very easily. It is in a small town called Hambry that he doesn’t only discover first love but also a plot that could threaten his own home and people.  One might think that after the enormous cliffhanger of book three, I’d be annoyed that we only spend enough time with Eddie, Jake and Susannah to get them settled around a fire where Roland can tell his tale. But, to be honest, I got so drawn into Roland’s past and this new cast of characters that I wouldn’t have minded reading another book solely about Roland’s former ka-tet.

While our well-known (and more and more beloved) characters still feature in this novel, we are introduced to a lot of new ones. New for us readers, not for Roland. His first love, Susan Delgado, the extremely scary with Rhea (I shudder to think of her), the despicable aunt Cord, or the Big Coffin Hunters – they all come to life on the pages of this novel and manage to evoke some emotional response from be, be it fear, disgust, compassion of love. In a flashback told by the progatonist, you can be sure he’ll survive. This does not mean, however, that there wasn’t a myriad of moments where I feared for him and his companions. King is truly the master of suspense!

We do learn new things about the quest to the Tower, despite spending most of the novel in the past. The new themes and ideas were mindblowing and kept me hooked for hundreds of pages at a time. I keep my reviews spoiler-free, so all I’m going to say is that the title of this instalment in the series is well chosen.The flashback also made Roland more human to me. While in the first book he comes of as this perfect hero without much going for him except his obsession for the Tower, he has grown more likable and more real in subsequent novels. After this, I care for him as much as I do for Jake and Oy (he’s still my favorite) and Eddie and Susannah. In my reader’s heart, this is the book that cements them as ka-tet.

Roland and Susan (art by Jae Lee)

What surprised me was how beautifully the love story was told. Sure, Stephen King is great at shocking and scaring his audience, but I know believe that he could write anything he sets his mind to. I was drawn into Roland’s love story, I completely understood how his 14-year-old heart could beat for nothing but his beloved and how preoccupied a teenage mind gets when in love. Despite King’s worries in the afterworld, I think he’s done an extraordinary job and written a better love story than many romance authors manage.

After Roland has finished telling his story, we do shortly return to our present day ka-tet. And they deliver one of the most awesome show-downs I can remember. There is no mean cliffhanger this time but I loved how King decided to weave in more references to literature and pop culture. He manages to conjure up childhood memories and scenes from famous books and twist them so they’re utterly scarey and make you feel just as frightened as Eddie, Jake, and Susanah. I also feel the urge to read The Stand very soon because it is the novel that feeds most heavily into this part of the Dark Tower series.

Stephen King’s afterword is well worth reading as well. He is not just a brilliant writer but he’s also so damn likable! In my opinion (and it may only last until I’ve read the next book) this is the best novel in the series so far.

THE GOOD: New characters, an amazing story that gives Roland more personality and keeps you hooked on every page. A beautiful love story and an awesome ending.
THE BAD: There is one passage that got drawn out a bit too long for my taste.
THE VERDICT: Yet another fantastic instalment in this series. I am growing fonder and fonter of the story, the characters and the quest for the Dark Tower. More please!

RATING: 9/10 Pretty close to perfection!

The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

Related Posts:

Other Reviews:

Stephen King – The Waste Lands

After a mindbogglingly good second novel, I couldn’t really stop reading this series. The Waste Lands was even more intriguing than The Drawing of the Three and pulled me in faster, harder and longer. I’d go so far as to say, this is the book that made me a true Dark Tower fan.

THE WASTE LANDS
by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1991)
ISBN: 034082977X
pages: 584
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #3

my rating: 8,5/10

first sentence: It was her third time with live ammunition… and her first time on the draw from the holster Roland had rigged for her.

Now this is where it gets awesome. I may have said the same thing in my review of The Drawing of the Three, but it speaks for King’s ability to one-up himself every single time. The set-up of this third novel in the Dark Tower series is similarly structured as its predecessor, though this one may be more a book of two halves rather than divided into three parts.

We continue our journey with Roland teaching Susannah and Eddie to be gunslingers and casually surviving one of the coolest and most terryfing attacks I’ve every read about. But inside Roland’s mind, there is war. Having saved Jake from being killed by Jack Mort – the third door on the beach, remember? – Jake never died and thusly never came back to life to meet Roland in The Gunslinger. I love me a good time paradox if the author knows how to use it and make it seem logical somehow. And Stephen King does. Roland, struggling with his dual memory of both meeting and sacrificing Jake and another past without Jake, is not the only one who feels the paradox. Jake, in the New York of our world, is also fighting strange memories that seem like half-remembered dreams. Both characters feel as if they’re slowly going insane if some closure isn’t found soon.

The first half of the book deals pretty much exclusively with this problem and its solution. While I’ve heard many people say that they felt it was drawn out a bit too much (including my significant other), I wouldn’t have shortened any passage in this book. Sure, we jump back and forth between Mid-World and New York more and more quickly as the story moves on and that did grind a little bit. But it also created more and more tension and made it impossible to put the book aside. Nailbiting and tearing eyes ensued. And honestly, who doesn’t want to be drawn into a story so much that they’re yearning for the next chapter, hoping for the heroes to survive? I was utterly taken, even more than with book two in the series.

We don’t get to meet too many new characters but those that we meet are fantastic. Some because they are as frightening and disgusting as they come, others because their particular type of insanity may be scary but is also a lot of fun to read. Blaine the Mono will forever have a place in the darkest corners of my brain (is it weird that I grew strangely fond of him?). And I feel that I have to give the book an extra bonus point for Oy. I’m a sucker for that creature.
The characters we’ve now known for a while go through interesting developments and especially Roland, who’s always felt a little distant and difficult to understand to me, gets more drive. I started feeling towards him the way Eddie, Jake and Susannah do – with utter trust that in the end, Roland will make it all ok.

King uses riddles and some powerful imagery to give this book atmosphere. You may think he’d just go with what we saw in the second volume of the series, but no. Stephen King is better than that. He does use the groundwork he has built for this universe but he gives us so much more. The city of Lud with its inhabitants and its crazy sense of balance felt like a real place to me. I wouldn’t want to get lost there even if Roland were there to (probably) rescue me. Now the riddles were great! This plot thread starts with Jake, when he picks up an old riddle book in a New York bookshop with the answer section torn out of the back. But riddles keep being important throughout the book. Even if I hadn’t loved the book as much as I did, I would have enjoyed riddling along with Roland, Eddie, Susannah and Jake.

Already, and very subtly, we get glimpses of Roland’s past, of a former ka-tet and of his life before The Gunslinger. I’m glad I didn’t wait very long between reading books 3 and 4 because it let me appreciate the set-up even more. Knowing that for Stephen King, there was actually quite a bit of time between the publication of these novels, I find it all the more impressive how tightly he weaves everything together. It really is one large story packed into seven (or now eight) books. Personally, I can’t wait to find out more about… well everything in this world and I admit that I dread the ending. Not because I’m particularly worried about Roland (like I said: total trust in his abilities) but because then it will be over.

I feel justified in recommending this series already, after having read only the first three books (and half of number four) as one of the best fantasy series I know. Go out and read it. And never mind that the first book feels a little slow. It gets better. And better. And better.

THE GOOD: Oh the suspense! There’s action, interspliced with scenes of thoughtful calm. Great characters, amazing atmosphere and not a boring moment in sight.
THE BAD: Maybe the first half took it a little too far. I didn’t mind but I know people who did.
THE VERDICT: If you’re undecided whether to continue the series, this will be the book that decides it for you. You can’t – and won’t want to – stop.

RATING: 8,5/10  Truly excellent (if you make it to this book at all).

The Dark Tower Series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

Other reviews:

Stephen King – The Drawing of the Three

So, book one wasn’t the revelation I hoped it would be. But listening to all the good advice people gave me, I dove straight into book 2 of the Dark Tower series. It was a fast ride and I arrived at the end, excited and intoxicated by King’s storytelling abilities, thinking: Now that’s more like it!

THE DRAWING OF THE THREE
by Stephen King

published: New English Library, 2003 (1987)
ISBN:0340829761
pages: 455
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #2

my rating: 8/10

first sentence: The gunslinger came awake from a confused dream which seemed to consist of a single image: that of the Sailor in the Tarot deck from which the Black man had dealt (or purported to deal) the gunslinger’s own moaning future.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK ONE AHEAD!

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland, The Last Gunslinger, is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America. Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Roland doesn’t only wake up with the memories of his Tarot hand in mind, he is also welcomed on the beach by giant lobster-like creatures that are as frightening as they are aggressive. Injured and sick, he drags himself away from these lobstrosities, only to find a door standing freely on the sand. Above it, the word Prisoner is written. When Roland opens that door, we first get to meet Eddie Dean, a junkie in our New York city who has demons of his own to fight…

I am a fan of well-structured  novels. Does Stephen King structure them too much at times? Yes, he does. But in this case, each of the three doors gets its own part of the novel which focuses on each character we meet beyond these doors. Eddie Dean, as messed up as he is, immediately became a favorite of mine. The way his modern day attitude mixes with Roland’s strange Mid-Land ways made for a compelling dynamic between the two. Odette/Detta was much harder for me to like, mainly because of her peculiuar problem. What a foul-mouthed bitch!

What I loved about this book is not only that it brings some of the well-known Stephen King suspense with it but that it actually contains somewhat of a mystery/crime-solving vibe. We are fed little tidbits of information that give us an idea of how these people’s lives might be connected but it’s only at the end that the bigger pictuer is revealed. And while it’s rather easy to guess, King’s writing still made it interesting and gave this story a new thrill. I read this book in about half the time it took me to get through The Gunslinger and it has twice as many pages.

For me, this book was a lot more coherent and gave me a plot to follow, rather than contorted images of memories in Roland’s head or episodic events happening on a walk through the desert. Maybe that means I like “simpler” novels, I don’t know. But even without knowing that this is still the beginning of a much larger story, The Drawing of the Three was a hugely fun book to read. For anyone who gives up mid-Gunslinger, don’t worry. Read this one first and go back to volume one later. Or leave it out completely (eventually, you’ll want to read it, trust me).

This is what made me understand the hype about this series. I may not have read all the books in one go but I certainly had the urge to, and Roland, Eddie and Susannah have been in the back of my mind quite a lot, especially when reading something else that was not as much of a page-turner.

THE GOOD: Suspense, great writing, interesting and troubled characters, and above all: the looming image of the Dark Tower…
THE BAD: Due to the strucuture, you can see what’s coming. Sometimes, King takes a little too long to get on with the story.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended! This will get you into the Dark Tower craze and it also happens to be an excellent summer book.

RATING: 8/10  Eight excellent doors on a beach

The Dark Tower series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole